New Hate Crimes Law: More Help for the States

By Kamika Dunlap on October 29, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

President Obama signed a new hate crimes bill into law Wednesday, extending new federal protections to include people who are victims of violent crimes because of their sexual orientation, gender or because they are disabled.

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act is part of newly expanded hate crimes legislation. Federal hate crimes laws already punish attacks motivated by race, religion or ethnicity and will now include attacks motivated by someone's gender or the fact that the victim is gay, lesbian, transgender or disabled.

The president pledged to sign the measure, which was added to a $680 billion defense authorization bill, including hate crimes provision. The law puts another $5 million a year to the Justice Department to help states in investigating hate crimes.

In addition, it allows the federal government to step in after the Justice Department certifies that a state does not have jurisdiction or is unable to carry out justice.

Now the challenge will be to see what difference it will make in combating crime and helping states with resources to deter and prosecute these acts of violence.

The prosecution of hate crimes however, will largely remain up to each state, of which 45 states have their own hate crimes legislation. The federal money is aimed at helping relieve some of the strain often put on police resources during investigations and prosecutions.

Harold Core, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights says the new national law is a "step in the right direction".

In the Michigan State campus paper he said the law, "...still would leave a gap between state and federal policy. Unless a crime motivated by gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability was severe enough to be tried in federal court, state law wouldn't allow it to be charged as a hate crime."

The groundbreaking legislation authorizes spending and sets guidance that is typically followed by congressional committees that decide appropriations. That means there's only one thing left to do -- follow the money! 

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